Watched: January 22 2019
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver
Runtime: 2h 06min
Korea, 1952. A patrol is ambushed and taken prisoner. When they return to the US, generally despised Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), who’s cursed with a busybody mother (Lansbury) and a fanatic senator stepfather (Gregory), is awarded Medal of Honor. The medal is given to him based on the testimony of his fellow soldiers, who cannot say enough good things about him, although they are unsure why.
Meanwhile, a few members of the same patrol, including Major Bennett Marco (Sinatra), are troubled by nightmares in which the celebrated Sergeant kills two fellow soldiers on the command of a bunch of ladies talking about agriculture and occasionally morphing into communist leaders.
Marco’s fears are dismissed by the military, and he is eventually placed on sick leave. He meets Eugenie (Leigh) on a train, and she becomes his support system as he tries to make sense of what actually happened in Korea.
Marco’s suspicion is that Shaw, and the rest of the patrol, are all brainwashed and returned to the USA to carry out some sort of plot. But what exactly is Shaw’s mission? Who is his local handler? And will they have any chance of stopping whatever it is in time?
The Manchurian Candidate is a tense and compelling thriller which keeps going off in unexpected directions. We loved the horticulture talk the soldiers imagined, and the cross cutting between their perception of it and the reality.
We also loved how the different soldiers saw this scene differently – the black soldier seeing a room filled with black women, etc. Now, the plot is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the aftermath of McCarthyism, we’re sure it hit all the right buttons.
We found Frank Sinatra to be a surprisingly good actor, and we loved Angela Lansbury: her character could have snatched the “World’s Greatest Mother” trophy right from the cold, dead hands of Mrs Bates…
We’ll never play solitaire again! Or go to gardening meetings.
What we learned: Beware the red queen! Also, what’s with all these guys meeting cool, interesting, witty women on trains?
Next time: Vivre sa Vie (1962)